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Quality is driving demand in towels and bathrobes

As demand for towels and bathrobes continues to grow, so maintaining the right stock levels has been a challenge for suppliers, reports Kathleen Armstrong.

The towels and bathrobes market continued to improve in 2014 as suppliers saw sales increase and customers move towards better quality products. The boutique hotel and luxury hotel markets have been particularly strong. The spa market is also growing.

Changes are taking place in the type of products requested in both product sectors.

Rod Nutter, commercial director for Hilden says that although standard towelling remains popular, there is now more variety in robes. He explains: “All robes can come in a several collar and sleeve styles and in different weights to suit usage, for example spa robes need to be warm but lightweight and absorb water. A polycotton waffle weave would suit this situation.”

Laura Johnson, creative director at BC Softwear, says that established customers are evidently doing good business. During the past year, additional budgets are being found for new spas and spa refurbishments and hotels have been refurbishing their bedrooms.

The company has seen sustained demand for its range of white bathrobes and white towels in both the hotel and spa markets.
“Within the spa sector there is an increased demand for luxurious and textured bathrobes, fast drying, lighter weight bathrobes and fleecy bathrobes,” Johnson adds.

BC Softwear’s latest luxury bathrobe, Serene, for example, is made in a soft velvety velour in a small waffle pattern that Johnson says gives the fabric softness, fluidity and good water absorbency. The robe has a shawl collar,  turn-up cuffs, double-front, deep pockets and double  belt loops to allow for waist adjustment. “This bathrobe has already been snapped up by Pennyhill Park luxury hotel for use in its spa treatment rooms,” she adds.

The company has also added to its Serenity waffle towel range with the introduction of the Serenity waffle jumbo bath sheet. This extra long bath sheet is designed for salon treatment beds. It measures 1,000mm x 2,000mm and has a hemmed head hole. Made with 100% Egyptian cotton in 340gsm weight, its waffle pattern has been designed to reduce the absorbency of massage oils and repel stains. It comes in a range of colours including white, ivory, beige, brown, black, slate grey, pebble and aubergine.

Chris Kingsford, sales director at Tonrose, says spas seek to deliver a luxury experience with many offering a specific colour of towel to complement the decor of the spa and create a relaxing atmosphere.

Because the client comes into contact with the product all the time, either lying on it or wrapped in it, a soft handle is essential. Co-ordinating robes, mitts, headbands and slippers are also an important aspect of the spa experience.

“The challenge for many laundry operators is trying to remove the oils and scrubs used in the treatments,” Kingsford adds.

High street health clubs, on the other hand, are more likely to provide their members with a basic towel that they can use in the shower after a workout, although private health clubs that charge higher membership fees may go for heavier weight, higher quality towels. Losses through pilferage are high in this sector so clubs hope that towels of a lower weight and construction may be less attractive to those who are tempted to put them into their kitbag.

At the same time, hotels are going for higher quality, heavier weight towels – 500 gsm and above – as hotels endeavour to create an experience of luxury for their customers.

“Hotels need to make the customer feel at home in the room, and towels are very important in this process. They are highly visible and the customer will handle the towels many times during their stay,” suggests Kingsford. “A hotel’s expectations for their towel offering is likely to be ‘soft, white and fluffy’ and commercial laundries will endeavour to deliver this.”

Many hotels insist on a 500 or a 550gsm towel, and there are laundries that at the top end offer a 650gsm towel. There are also bath mats to complement the towel, ranging from 650 – 1000gsm.

Raj Ruia, managing director for Richard Haworth, agrees: “In the last 12 months or so there has been a much greater demand for higher quality, heavier towels. Whereas previously, the majority of establishments provided, at best, 500gsm towels, now we find that most are opting for 600gsm. This is indeed a wise investment; the product holds its own – in terms of fluffiness, shape and absorbency – wash after wash and the guest feels nurtured by a hotel that has chosen to provide them with excellent towels in the bathroom.”

Richard Haworth offers a range of 600gsm towels for different establishments. The Carnegie collection is available in white and comes with a subtly contrasting pintuck border in taupe; the Madison option is a 100% ring-spun cotton towel featuring a honeycomb weave header and is available in pebble, slate and white. For the deluxe hotel bathrooms, the company has the Calgary collection, made from 600gsm pure microcotton.

“Laundries continue to raise expectations and now come to expect next day deliveries as the norm, so we’ve ensured we have the necessary resource to be able to service this,” Ruia adds.

Maintaining the right stock levels to meet demand from hotels, spas and laundries has been a challenge for suppliers over the last year as demand for towels and bathrobes continued to grow beyond expectation throughout the year.

“It is difficult to know what stocks to hold,” says Richard Yates, sales director for Linen Connect. “A hotel can order 1,000 bath sheets and want them tomorrow – and if a hotel needs more towels, we need to deliver.”

Yates said that by maintaining its stock, Linen Connect was able to meet that demand. The company supplies towels in 100% Turkish cotton, all in white except for some with coloured header bar created for specific spas and fitness clubs.

“Towels are the most important product group for a hotel or spa and white gives a clean, crisp pressed look,” Yates says. “The industry has noticed that towels are critical – bringing in towels with better specs will make them stand out. But if you don’t get it right, it will lead to complaints.”

Yates says that end-users notice the quality of towels and having used Linen Connect towels in a hotel, they contact the company to see if they can buy their towels.

Despite the focus on luxury, price is still an issue. The cost of cotton has come down from its peak of a few years ago but customers are becoming more demanding.

Both laundries and suppliers face challenges in charging prices that cover the costs of production while at the same time remaining competitive.

To reduce costs, some laundries are looking at recent developments in blending terry with polyester. The claim is that it could reduce drying time by as much as 20%.

Yates says Linen Connect was approached by a number of laundries asking it to look at the polycotton alternatives. But after exploring the options, the company decided to stick with 100% cotton because it felt that was what the end-user wanted.
Hilden offered polyester cotton mixed fibre towels as part of its range for many years. However, Nutter says demand for this sort of towel has begun to fall. He thinks this is mainly because it is more of a challenge to maintain their whiteness after repeated wash cycles. As a result, Hilden has discontinued this product from its range.

“Product performance has been, and will always be, the significant requirement for the commercial laundry market in terms of the lifespan and the product’s handle and feel, which are part of the hotel guest experience. Some [hotel]groups prefer specific designs that reflect their brand standards,” Nutter says that aspects such as yarn type and construction have a huge bearing on the lifespan, handle and appearance of the product and this is now a serious consideration, alongside the weight.

Nutter says Hilden’s sales to the laundry sector for the spa and fitness centres have been significantly higher than in previous years, thanks to the development of the a product range for the sector. The company has also introduced the Mosaic spa towels from sister company Liddell into the Hilden range following laundries’ requests for this product.

“With regard to colour, white continues to be the most popular choice with earth colours of chocolate, brown and ecru ever popular,” Nutter adds. Colour “is most certainly the new white in the spa world,” says Johnson at BC Softwear.

“Thanks to the company’s leading-edge colourfast reactive dyeing processes, BC Softwear can offer a range of brilliant coloured towels that will retain both their colour and their soft fluffy feel wash after wash. This gives the laundries added confidence when their customers request coloured towels.”For DG Textiles, white continues to be the colour of choice but about 20% of its sales are in colours such as black (for hairdressers), burgundy or light blue. Boutique hotels wanting to stand out with new modern designs are beginning to ask for towels that match their colours.

“For example, we had to supply towelling to a 53-bedroom hotel, in a prosperous area of London, that had been refurbished and was keen on light green and royal blue in 600gsm. Every single room was different – some with white and some with colour,” says Andy Jamshidzadeh. Bathrobes, however, were in white.

Like the other suppliers mentioned in this feature, DG Textiles is sticking to 100% cotton towels because it feels it is a better product.

However Jamshidzadeh is keeping an eye on new developments in towelling such as those on show during the Heimtextil exhibition, which took place in Frankfurt in January.

An increasing number of both laundries and hotels are asking for towels and bathrobes embroidered with their logos. This may be part of an effort to reduce the theft or simply because they want to make a statement.

“It has become trendy for high class hotels and some of the laundries to have their logo woven into the products”

Jamshidzadeh says. “We have a manufacturer in Turkey that has the technology to do it for orders of at least 500 pieces.”

Also growing is the use of RFID. Nutter says that meeting the varying requirements for each laundry or hotel when fitting RFID tags in towels can be a challenge.

“However, as we have overseas offices in the countries of manufacture we can ensure that all varying requirements are fulfilled,” he says.

Given the results over the past year, suppliers are optimistic about the year to come. “Events such as the Rugby World Cup will bring the UK excellent global recognition and encourage yet more people to visit – be it for a short break or an extended holiday,” comments Ruia at Richard Haworth.

He adds: “There’s no doubt about it – 2014 was definitely better than 2013 for the hospitality industry and we expect that trend to continue into 2015.

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